Get Out of My Way! I’m Coming Through!

Last year I took a memoire writing workshop with Donald Antrim and I remembered that he’d spoken quite a bit about this business of getting out-of-the-way of your writing. So, I dug up these notes I took on what he had to say.:

  • Be careful not to let the poetry of your writing carry you away.
  •  Resist the ‘beauty of writing’. If not the reader will be in the mind of the writer and not the character.
  • The world comes through us through characters’ perceptions and not through lyrical prose.
  • Beware of showing the author manipulating the characters.  The novel is not about the author’s wish for the reader to think of him; it is about the world.”


What does it mean to get out-of-the-way in the creative process?  Marianne Elliott, the writer,human rights advocate and yoga teacher has this to say:

 “I recognise in myself sometimes a desire to be very clever, to craft a story in a way which is impressive for its art. But if my purpose is to tell stories that help us recognise the truth that we are not separate, then surely what matters is to “do something that is common to all of us…

But getting out of our own way is about more than waiting until the wee hours, when our fatigue has worn down our pretenses, to record our most honest stories or songs. It’s also about collaboration, about understanding that the power and life of the song or the story lies in it’s ability to connect to people.”

Here’s another method I’ve found of getting out-of-the-way. Late afternoon yesterday I was driving through a magnificent country road lined with tall corn fields in Eastern Quebec. I had the radio on Rich Terfry

I like to listen to his program because he keeps me in touch with the latest up and coming talents in music. He’s made me discover Zeus, Cold Plate, Sloan, Dream Warriors. This particular afternoon a rap tune by Shad called Listen came on and suddenly my imagination rocketed to a place where the protagonist of the novel I am writing was rap dancing. The inside of my head became a cinema screen where I watched her doing rap dancing as scenes from her past drifted by. All of a sudden I had her good enough to be on So You Can Dance and hanging out with street kids rap dancing.

Chogyam Trungpa evokes the image of the horse as our own stability so that we are “…never swayed by the confusion of life, never swayed by excitement or depression.”

It was clear that my horse was getting out of control and if I continued this way I would likely fall off. So I stopped the camera. My character was not a rap dancer.

Then another song came on.  Sarah Harmer’s Captive and there I found a line that resonated more with my character and I heard her say:

I wanted to be his captive. His possession. I also wanted him to be mine. I would go to his apartment in the east end. A shit hole. I can say that because that’s how he always referred to it.  And it was a shit hole too but I didn’t care. All I cared about was being with him.

 Whenever I went over I would bring my violin and he’d lie on his bed and I would stand like a performer in front of him and play him allegros from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.

 One hot summer night we had the windows opened. The heavy traffic below was so loud that I played the cords harder than usual. When I’d finished he said, “What does music do to you?”

Music had always been an escape for me from the chaos of what was going on at home. Whenever my mother’s addiction would get out of hand I’d lock myself in my room and play until I got so deep inside that I could reach my pain and grab hold of it and squeeze it out.

I didn’t tell any of this to Niko. What I said was, “Music is a great way to heal.”

I can still see him laying there on his bed his hands around his head looking at me through troubled eyes.  “I don’t know if it could ever heal me,” he said. “You’ve got to feel something in order to heal.”

“What about me? Don’t you feel something for me?”

“Nothing that needs healing,” he said. “Come here.” I put my violin down on the chair next to his bed and he took me into his arms and we laid there for a long time. After, when we got up he showed me some rap dancing steps which he learned from the kids at the Youth Protection Center he worked at. We practiced to Sheryl Crow’s Summer Day for the remainder of the evening. I was never happier”.


So, I guess my protagonist does break dance after all. Nice to know.

 Here’s Sheryl Crow for your enjoyment


2 thoughts on “Get Out of My Way! I’m Coming Through!

  1. Getting out of our own way is not as easy as it may sound. We have to drop our ego as we write and enter into the life and spirit of the character we write about. Everything in the story is filtered through this person’s eyes – the surroundings, other people and what is happening.

    To be a good storyteller goes beyond language and skill. It’s getting to the heart of what is being said and sharing truths others will identify with. It’s also about letting your characters take over. As they become real to you, they tell you how they want things to go.

    When we get out of our own way we discover a world of characters who are braver than us as well as more villainous. Whether they come from our subconscious or from an alternate universe, we must let them tell the story.



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